Published April 11, 2012
YANGON, Myanmar – The architects of political reconciliation in Myanmar, President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, met Wednesday ahead of the Nobel peace laureate's historic entry into parliament.
The two were due to discuss democratization, parliamentary affairs and a peace process with ethnic rebels, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
On her return to Yangon from the capital, Naypyitaw, Suu Kyi told reporters only that "it was a good meeting."
Suu Kyi has long fought for democratic rule against the former military regime, and spent about 15 years under house arrest for her efforts. Her party boycotted a November 2010 general election, saying it was unfair and undemocratic.
But when the former general and outgoing prime minister Thein Sein became president five months later, he began reforms easing the political landscape after almost five decades of military repression. To woo Suu Kyi's party, the election law was amended to meet its objections, and the NLD contested by-elections earlier this month.
It captured 43 seats to become the main opposition presence in parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by allies of the former military regime. They will take their seats when the next session of parliament opens April 23.
The polls were viewed as a milestone for Myanmar and an astonishing reversal of fortune for former political prisoner Suu Kyi.
Another key player in the process leading to political reconciliation, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, on Wednesday praised Suu Kyi and Thein Sein.
"This movement toward reconciliation is ... propelled by the courage of two people who could not be more different in their backgrounds, their life experiences ... (They) started from very different points in their lives, have different life journeys but joined together in their resolve to set aside their differences for the good of this society," said Webb.
Webb was a point man in the effort by the Obama administration to engage Myanmar's former military regime after years of ostracizing it because of its repression.
A rapprochement between the U.S. and Myanmar was crucial to promoting domestic reform, since Myanmar's rulers sought an easing of Washington's economic sanctions against them, and could offer liberalization in exchange.
Webb met Thein Sein, speakers of parliament and other ministers in Naypyitaw on Monday. He told reporters Wednesday that Myanmar was at a "profound moment."
He said that on his return to Washington, he would meet with colleagues to look at "changes in policies that will reward the positive actions that this current government has taken and also to continue incentives for future change."
"We would like to see a time when the United States and your country have full economic relations and diplomatic relations," Webb said.
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday welcomed the April 1 by-elections. Suu Kyi's election "offers a history opportunity for more inclusive political dialogue," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who is the council president this month, told reporters.
Rice added that various member-states expressed concern about Kachin state in northern Myanmar, where a long-running rebel insurgency has raged, and where voting was suspended.
Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report.